The 25th Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize: 2021 Shortlist

In News by Porter Anderson

With a winner’s announcement coming in May, the Wolff Translator’s Prize honors four German-to-English translators in its 2021 shortlist.

Distanced seating, June 8 2020, at a literary festival venue in Moscow. Image – iStockphoto: Svetlana

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Four Titles Shortlisted
As the April awards avalanche thunders by and the competing prize programs run out of press releases, we hope to have a chance to recoup some of the awards-related announcements we were unable to handle when so many were arriving at once during a crowded season of more pressing publishing news.

Today (April 30), we have the Goethe-Institut New York’s announcement of its shortlist for the 2021 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the Wolff is  an annual honor, recognizing a literary translation from German into English and produced in the United States the previous year. The program carries a US$10,000 purse. Funded by the German government, the Wolff Translator’s Prize was established in 1996.

Until 2014, the prize was administered by the Goethe-Institut Chicago. Since 2015, it’s been handled by Goethe-Institut New York.

The shortlist was determined by a jury of five with an expertise in German literature and translation, consisting of Shelley Frisch, Bettina Abarbanell, Philip Boehm, John Hargraves, and Susan Harris who is familiar to our regular readers for her work as the editorial director at Words Without Borders.

Wolff Translator’s Prize 2021 Shortlist

  • Jefferson Chase for his translation Hitler: Downfall, 1939-1945 by Volker Ullrich (Penguin Random House/Knopf)
  • Tess Lewis for Kraft by Jonas Lüscher (Macmillan/Farrar Straus and Giroux)
  • Jackie Smith for An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky (New Directions)
  • Imogen Taylor for Beside Myself by Sasha Marianna Salzmann (Other Press)

In a prepared comment on the shortlist, Frisch, who chairs the jury, is quoted, saying, “This past year has been a hard one on a global scale, medically, politically, and even meteorologically.

Shelley Frisch

“For many of us, though, literature has remained a reliable source of solace, entertainment, and often joy, all of which were needed more than ever.

“How wonderful, then, to greet the 31 submissions to this year’s Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize.

“Our jury was treated to a broad spectrum of prose and poetry, fiction and nonfiction, among them texts that defied easy categorization. The four books that constitute this year’s shortlist stood out for their ingenuity, beauty, and accuracy in capturing the letter and spirit of their respective source texts.

“We congratulate all four translators for their outstanding contributions in bringing German-language texts to our shores, and thank them for the pleasure and insights they are affording their new readerships.

The winner of this year’s prize is to be announced on May 20 and followed by an award ceremony streamed live by the Goethe-Institut New York on June 24, featuring special guest Alexander Wolff, the grandson of Kurt Wolff.

Funded by the German government, past winners of the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize include:

  • John E. Woods
  • Joel Agee
  • Anthea Bell
  • Ross Benjamin
  • Susan Bernofsky
  • Philip Boehm
  • Daniel Bowles
  • John Brownjohn,
  • Isabel Fargo Cole
  • Charlotte Collins
  • Peter Constantine
  • Margot Bettauer Dembo
  • Shelley Frisch
  • Michael Henry Heim
  • Michael Hofmann
  • David Dollenmeyer
  • John Hargraves
  • Breon Mitchell
  • Burton Pike
  • Catherine Schelbert
  • Damion Searls
  • Jean M. Snook
  • Leila Vennewitz
  • Krishna Winston

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Wolff Translators’ Prize is here, more from us on translation is here, and more on publishing and book awards is here.

More on the impact on world publishing and the books business of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.